SAN DIEGO - Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships USS Champion (MCM 4), USS Scout (MCM 8) and USS Ardent (MCM 12) recognized nearly 30 years of naval service during decommissioning ceremonies on board Naval Base San Diego this week.
Due to public health safety and restrictions of large public events related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the ceremonies were virtually celebrated with ship plankowners and former crew members.
As Scout’s guest speaker, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, wished the crews of the San Diego-based MCMs fair winds and following seas as they bid farewell to their ships.
“Champion, Scout and Ardent Sailors, past and present, are a special breed. These Sailors served with distinct pride and dedicated tremendous energy in representing the U.S. Navy’s mine sweeping community over the lifespan of these unique ships,” said Kitchener. “As this chapter comes to a close, we look back proudly on the efforts of these Iron Sailors, their families and these tested and proven wooden ships as they all played an important role in the defense of our Nation and maritime freedom around the globe.”
Commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, Rear Adm. Scott Robertson was the guest speaker for Champion’s ceremony, with Capt. Hank Kim, Commander, Mine Warfare Division Twelve, presiding.
“With more than 90 percent of the world’s trade carried by sea, Mine Countermeasures capabilities underwrite freedom of navigation and global commerce that are essential to the world’s economy,” said Robertson. “The Avenger class ships and specifically the USS Champion, have provided robust MCM capability over the past three decades to ensure that freedom of navigation is maintained and enabled the U.S. Navy to conduct maritime operations globally. The Champion has served her crews, Navy and nation well, but now we are approaching the sundown for these MCM ships and the dawn of Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures systems. While the platforms and capabilities are changing, the one constant is that they have been and will continue to be, operated by intelligent, creative, dedicated, hardworking crews that have always ridden these unique types of ships. You, your shipmates, and your predecessors who have operated and maintained these incredibly important assets have done a tremendous job and have been instrumental to our nation’s naval arsenal of capabilities.”
Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Three, Rear Adm. Philip E. Sobek, Ardent’s guest speaker, thanked the crews for their work.
“It was an honor to be with you today as we close this chapter in naval history,” said Sobeck. It was a distinct privilege to work alongside some of the finest mine-countermeasure Sailors in our Navy.”
Sobeck, who had previously command the Ardent remarked, “Those Sailors, and all who have manned these rails, truly lived up to the ship’s motto – “Igneus et Fervens” (fiery and fervent), which represents the irrepressible character and fighting spirit of the crew.”
“It has been more than an honor to command this ship and this crew over the past two years. It has been a distinct privilege – a privilege to work alongside some of the finest Sailors our Navy and our nation have to offer. Their persistence through one adversity after the next is commendable and truly represents the spirit of the Champion motto ‘We Accept the Challenge,” Lt. Cmdr. Matt Yokeley, Champion’s commanding officer remarked. “It is now my solemn responsibility as the ships final captain to order the final hauling down of the colors and disembarkment of this fine ship.”
Scout’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Shawn R. Callihan, USS Scout (MCM 8) reflected on the service of all Pathfinders, past and present. "As we bid farewell to this incredible warship, the Pathfinders of USS Scout proudly recall her legacy of service, treasuring the shared triumphs and challenges experienced together,” Callihan said. “These bonds, forged through common service and sacrifice, ensure that Scout's legacy will live on through former crew members who forever embrace the ship's motto, "Pathfinders - We lead the way!"
Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Moffett, Ardent maintained a crew of eight officers and 76 enlisted Sailors. “Today is an end of an era, but also a happy day, for those Iron Men and Women that brought this Wooden Ship to life and proudly represented what it means to be a U.S. Navy Sailor,” said Moffett.
Champion was built in Marinette, Wisconsin by Marinette Marine Corporation and commissioned Feb. 8, 1991. Originally assigned to Active Naval Reserve, Mine Countermeasures Squadron Two, she spent most of her years homeported in Ingleside, Texas and San Diego, California. Since 2000, Champion has operated exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Coast. Her stateside presence allowed for continuous improvement of Mine Warfare technologies and crew training for forward deployed naval forces in Bahrain and Japan.
The fourth ship to bear the name, USS Scout (MCM 8) was laid down on June 8, 1987 at Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She was launched on May 20, 1989 and commissioned on Dec. 15, 1990. Since then, this Avenger-class MCM has, along with her Sailors, helped spread freedom and democracy around the world. Among her achievements are helping to evacuate refugees from Kosovo in 1999, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and Hurricane Katrina relief operations in 2005.
Ardent was commissioned Feb. 8, 1994. In 1998, while underway in the North Arabian Gulf, she received emergent tasking to assist USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) in locating and recovering a downed F/A-18C. Later that year she conducted operations inside Iraqi territorial waters in Mine Danger Area (MDA) 10 in support of Operation Desert Fox. Ardent departed on an emergency sortie from Mina Salman Port, with all other ships, in the wake of USS Cole (DDG 67) bombing in Port of Aden, Yemen in October 2000.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. Navy began development of a new mine countermeasures (MCM) force, which included two new classes of ships and minesweeping helicopters. The vital importance of a state-of-the-art mine countermeasures force was strongly underscored in the Persian Gulf during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war and in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991.
Avenger class ships are designed as mine sweepers/hunter-killers capable of finding, classifying, and destroying moored and bottom mines. Avenger (MCM 1) was decommissioned on Sept. 30, 2014. Defender (MCM 2) was decommissioned Oct. 1, 2014. Guardian (MCM 5) was stricken from service in 2013.
These ships use sonar and video systems, cable cutters, and a mine detonating device that can be released and detonated by remote control. They are also capable of conventional sweeping measures. The ships are fiberglass sheathed, wooden hull construction.
Eight MCM remain in service to the fleet and are forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan and Manama, Bahrain.